By early August 2018, Apple had transformed itself from a tiny producer of computers in a garage in 1976 to the world’s most valuable publicly traded company, with a market capitalization that surpassed US$1 trillion. To put the US$1 trillion valuation in perspective, Apple’s worth is more than the economies of Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and Taiwan. During fiscal 2018 (ended 29 September), Apple’s fastest growth came in the Americas, followed by Europe, with annual gains surpassing 42 percent in the Americas and 23.5 percent in Europe, while Greater China generated nearly 20 percent of revenues (see Figure 41.1). Apple’s net sales (US$265.6 billion) increased 16 percent or US$36.4 billion during 2018 compared to 2017, primarily driven by growth in services (digital content and customer services) and higher sales of iPhone.
How do the Chinese state, employers, employees and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) shape the voice structures in state-owned and non-state enterprises? The author discusses older urban workers’ limited voices in overturning the tides of privatization and corporate reorganizations during the 1990s and 2000s. At the same time, new workers - including nearly 300 million internal migrants from the countryside - have entered into export-oriented manufacturing and services. The repressed voices of these younger cohorts of rural migrant employees are explained by the absence of effective union representation and the weak enforcement of law. To preserve social stability and political legitimacy, the government needs to listen to workers’ voices, however modest the ongoing legal reforms. As the Chinese economy has stalled, from around 2015, the suppression and silencing of employee voice has become prevalent. Worker protesters and their supporters will continue to confront a tactical mix of reconciliation and repression from all fronts, engendering uncertainties and instabilities.
Jenny Chan and Mark Selden
This chapter assesses the Chinese state’s drive for economic growth and response to labor activism through legal reforms and labor legislation. In response to labor activism through state-sanctioned channels and outside of existing legal pathways, government officials have broadened employment and workplace rights in an attempt to preserve “social stability.” The conception of worker citizenship enshrined in the 1995 Labor Law is intended to overcome the rural/urban divide associated with differential rural and urban household registration, even when inequalities in terms of wage and welfare entitlement between urban employees and rural migrants remain. With the legalization and institutionalization of a national contract labor system in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the socialist “iron rice bowl” tenure of the urban state and collective sectors was largely smashed. Re-employment of laid-off workers through agencies has opened new sources of grievances and terrains of state–labor–capital contests. In January 2008 the government implemented the Labor Contract Law to strengthen rights protection, including the job security of subcontracted workers. The Chinese government’s relentless pursuit of greater labor mobility and market competitiveness, however, has continued to conflict with workers’ struggles for individual and collective rights. The corporate drive to assure labor flexibility and higher profits has further weakened the law. Through subcontracting and outsourcing, employers have gained access to low-cost contingent laborers, engendering injustice and illegality. Labor challenges will inevitably confront a tactical mix of reconciliation and repression on all fronts, resulting in uncertainty and instability.